AFTER THE MIRACLE AT CANA, Jesus went with Mary, His disciples, and some relatives whom He had met at the wedding, to Capernaum, a large town on the west shore of the Lake of Tiberias. At Capernaum He probably joined one of the caravans of pilgrims descending to Jerusalem, for the time of the Passover was approaching, when He was to begin His public ministry in the Holy City.
Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus found the temple crowded with the merchants who exploited the needs of the worshipers. There were money-changers, who supplied local currency to foreign pilgrims, and vendors of sacrificial oxen, sheep, and doves.
Wrathful at this desecration of the temple, Jesus took a whip and drove out the temple merchants, saying:
“Take these things away, and do not make the house of My Father a house of business.”
When the Jews protested this expulsion and asked for a sign of His authority to abolish an established custom, Jesus said:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
He referred to His resurrection, but they understood His words literally and argued that what had taken forty-six years to build could not be restored in three days. His disciples, however, remembered this prophetic speech when it had been fulfilled in His resurrection.
One night while Jesus was in Jerusalem He was visited by a Pharisee leader named Nicodemus who, unlike his fellows, was impressed by Christ’s miracles and sincerely desired to know more of His teaching.
“Rabbi,” he said, “we know that Thou hast come a teacher from God, for no one can work these signs that Thou workest unless God be with him.”
Then Jesus told Him of the spiritual transformation that was required of those who would attain salvation.
“Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus was somewhat disillusioned. Here were no secret doctrines, no talismans, nothing but a prosaic notion about rebirth. With somewhat weary cynicism, he asked how anyone could be born again. Could he re-enter his mother’s womb for this rebirth? But Jesus said:
“Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not wonder that I said to thee, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it will, and thou hearest its sound but dost not know where it comes from or where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Again Nicodemus claimed he did not understand how such things could be. And Jesus said:
“Thou art a teacher in Israel and dost not know these things? Amen, amen, I say to thee, We speak of what We know, and We bear witness to what We have seen; and Our witness you do not receive. If I have spoken of earthly things to you, and you do not believe, how will you believe if I speak to you of heavenly things? And no one has ascended into heaven except Him who has descended from heaven: the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that those who believe in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting.”
After the Passover Jesus left Jerusalem for the country along the Jordan. He remained in Judea with His disciples for some time, preaching and, through the disciples, baptizing. At the same time John the Baptist was baptizing farther north on the Jordan, near Salim. Argument arose about the relative merits of these two baptisms, and some of John’s disciples came and told him that Christ, who had been with John at Bethany beyond the Jordan, was baptizing and attracting large crowds. But John rejoiced to hear this news, saying, “No one can receive anything unless it is given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices exceedingly at the voice of the bridegroom. This my joy, therefore, is made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.
“He who comes from above is over all. He who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks. He who comes from heaven is over all. And He bears witness to that which He has seen and heard, and His witness no one receives. He who has received His witness has set his seal on this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for not by measure does God give the Spirit. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; he who is unbelieving towards the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.”
Now, John had for some time been denouncing the sins of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, particularly his incestuous marriage with Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, Philip. Herod had begun an affair with her during a visit to Rome, where she resided with her husband, and had easily persuaded her to elope with him, for she was dissatisfied with her status as a private citizen. She was infuriated by John’s charge, and to placate her, perhaps, as much as for any political reasons, Herod gave orders for John to be imprisoned in his fortress at Machaerus, in Perea.
Meditation: The Jews regarded Christ’s cleansing of the temple as presumption, an affront to their authority, a reflection on their care of God’s house. Without looking into the merits of the case, without examining their own consciences, all of them-Nicodemus excepted-took their stand against Him. When we are criticized, what is our reaction? Anger at the critic, or a serious examination of conscience to see how we have prompted the criticism?
Information from The Life of Christ “Our Lord’s Life with Lesson in His Own Words for Our Life Today” The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 25-28. © 1954 edited by Reverend John P. O’Connell, MASTD and Jex Martin, following mainly A Chronological Harmony of the Gospels by Stephen J Hartdegen OFM NIHIL OBSTAT John A McMahon; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago August 1, 1953. Print. Drawing by Albert H Winkler.